By Rick Banas of senior living provider BMA Management, Ltd.
Using personal stories and items from the African American Museum of Southern Illinois in Carbondale, Illinois, Milton McDaniel spoke about the history of African Americans in our country and in Carbondale.
- In 1561, ships started coming in from Africa, carrying human cargo primarily to pick cotton and tobacco. Children as young as seven to eight years of age were expected to pick as much cotton as an adult.
- Ships also carried in white “slaves” from Europe. They were labeled “indentured servants” rather than slaves. Rather than having to work as slaves for the rest of their lives, they only had to work as an indentured servant for seven years before they could be freed.
- Up until 1960, there was one only black police officer in Carbondale. He was only allowed to patrol the Northeast side of town. He was not allowed to arrest anyone who was white.
- Back then, people got along; there didn’t seem to be a lot of problems. There were many “Mom & Pop” stores owned and operated by African Americans on the Northeast side of town and probably 50% of the businesses in town were owned by people of color.
- At the same time, as a young boy in the 1950s, McDaniel was living in a community where there were “white only” water fountains and segregated restaurants. As an 11-year-old boy, he worked as a bus boy at a restaurant where blacks were not allowed to eat. He talked about a restaurant in Carbondale that had black cooks but a white only clientele and a restaurant where black athletes from Southern Illinois University (SIU) were the only blacks who could eat there.
He talked about school desegregation and the Civil Rights Movement.
He showed pictures of the bus that came through Illinois and stopped in Carbondale to pick up folks to go to the March in Washington, D.C. in 1963.
A person in attendance who grew up a little further south recalled sitting on the front porch of a home in Cairo, hearing bullets bouncing off the courthouse.
McDaniel talked about how basketball help bring Carbondale together in 1967.
At the same time, the men’s basketball team at Carbondale High School was competing for the state title in Champaign. The team, which featured four black starters, amassed a 29 and 3 record and finished second in the State.
McDaniel was a member of the Carbondale Terriers and remembers playing against Frazier in some of the sandlot games that were played during the summer months.
He told the story about a young African American from Carbondale who became the first black man to be allowed to work as a Fireman on a train operating north of the Ohio River. As the person responsible for managing the steam engine’s output of steam, the fireman had to know every signal, every curve and every change in elevation to safely control the train.
This young African American would guide the train from Carbondale to St. Louis. He would then hitch a ride on a train back to Carbondale. Because the fireman was black, he had to ride back to Carbondale in the luggage car with the bags and the caskets.
McDaniel was the young African American.
Holding up a poster of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that is on display at the Museum, McDaniel read the quote from Dr. King accompanied his picture:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Prejudice is not something we are born with, he said, but something we are taught.
To learn more about Black History Month, go to History.com. You can view a video on the Origins of Black History Month below.
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